A hike on the Appalachian Trail is, for many, much more than just a walk in the woods. While the adventure may begin as simply a hike from Georgia to Maine, it often becomes a journey of the spirit.
That was the case for Nancy Shepherd, author of My Own Hike. When Shepherd set foot on the trail in Georgia, she was an inexperienced hiker with fewer than 50 miles under her hipbelt. Along with her gear, she carried a load of fear and intimidation in her pack. But by the time she stood at the summit of Katahdin, she’d become a long-distance backpacker with the strength and confidence to make the decisions required both on the trail and in her life.
My Own Hike is Shepherd’s on-trail journal in which she relates her experience of the hike, both good and bad. Says Shepherd, “When I was preparing to hike the Appalachian Trail, nothing prepared me for how difficult and painful it would be, psychologically as well as physically. The books I read seemed to ignore that part of the journey. Judging by how many hikers bail out at the first opportunity each year — just three days into the hike — I’m not the only one who could have used a warning of the reality ahead of time. I decided to publish my journal so that future hikers would have the advantage of knowing what to expect.”
Shepherd continues, “Almost anyone can hike for a week and maintain a good attitude, but when you’re out there for months on end, it can start to wear on you, just like anything does. The low times were part of my hike, and I included them in my journal; it helps the book portray the long hike realistically.”
Shepherd had plenty of good experiences on the trail that more than compensated for the hard times. Just being on the trail and pursuing her dream was a gift. The book describes her awe at the beauty of the wilderness and her delight at her encounters with wildlife. Even the injury that threatened to end her hike was an opportunity to be uplifted by the kindness of strangers.
“The camaraderie on the trail was something I’d never known anywhere before, and I gained a life-long friend. Hiking the Appalachian Trail truly was a life-changing experience,” she says.